Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What I'm Giving Up for Lent

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
– Gandhi

Throughout my Catholic upbringing, this has always been a major conversation topic this time of year. Depending on when Ash Wednesday fell, it could put an early end to Valentine’s Day chocolate consumption – giving up chocolate was probably my most frequent Lenten promise. And as a teenager, Lent started to seem like getting a second chance on New Years’ Resolutions.

These days, I’m not particularly religiously observant, but I love the idea of having an opportunity built into the calendar for reflection on where we could be doing better – on the “good we’ve failed to do” in the words of the Ash Wednesday hymn – and, more superficially, I love a good monthly challenge. So for this Lent, I’ve decided to give up eating meat. I’m actually pretty excited about it. For one, I love that vegetarianism is steeped in Lenten traditions: Catholics swear off meat on Ash Wednesday and then every Friday in Lent, and Orthodox Christians keep vegan during the whole Lenten season.

For another, if I really practiced what I believe, I would already be vegetarian. Without getting too deep into food politics, meat consumption is hugely resource-intensive environmentally, and like everyone else who’s seen Food Inc., I am repulsed by the conditions for animals on American factory farms. If I’m being honest with myself, it’s hard to come up with good reasons—for me!—to eat meat other than the fact that it’s delicious. As it is, I don’t really eat that much meat. We very rarely cook it at home, so I mostly eat it at restaurants. Even when I go out, I genuinely prefer veggie or Portobello burgers to the beef kind, and usually default to tofu instead of chicken with my bibimbap or drunken noodles.

But even though they say that abstinence is easier than perfect moderation, my “flexitarianism” offers me an out when I want to eat some barbecue from KBC or a steak burrito bowl at Chipotle. I still basically eat whatever I want, just closer to the vegetable end of the spectrum than many. There is some conscious choice involved but no real sacrifice. When I do eat meat, I justify it with the story that “I usually eat vegetarian,” but maybe that story is less true than I’ve told myself it is.

So I want to challenge myself to truly walk the walk – to bring my actions into harmony with my beliefs and to do a small bit of good that I’ve previously failed to do. And it will be a challenge, to plan my meals and to order at restaurants around not eating meat. But I am pretty excited for it. I want to prove to myself that I can be a full-fledged, card-carrying vegetarian if I just commit to it intentionally. And I’m hopeful that this will spur some lasting changes in my eating habits—even after the Easter kielbasa comes out.

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